The Upper House last Wednesday enacted a law that establishes a Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council, with the support of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, Nihon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says that the creation of the Japanese NSC will enable the government to flexibly make strategic decisions on security measures and diplomacy.
But there is no guarantee that the NSC will improve the government’s ability to make rational security and diplomatic decisions or enhance Japan’s national interests.
The Abe administration regards the enactment of a secrecy bill — which would enable designation of an almost unlimited amount of information related to security, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism as special secrets — as prerequisite for the smooth operation of the Japanese NSC.
If the secrecy bill is enacted, it will enable the prime minister, the chief Cabinet secretary, the foreign minister and the defense minister — who form the core of the NSC — and other NSC members to conceal their discussions and decisions from the public. There is also the danger that the NSC will act arbitrarily without engaging in discussions with other Cabinet members, the Diet and outside experts.
Under the NSC bill, the prime minister and the three Cabinet members will meet about once every two weeks. It’s possible that only information biased toward the inclinations of the prime minister or convenient to NSC members will be collected and that key decisions will be made solely on the basis of this potentially misleading or inaccurate information.
The Japanese NSC, which will have strong ties with America’s NSC, will likely be influenced by the thinking of the U.S. NSC and the information supplied by it.
One wonders whether the Japanese NSC will have the ability and courage to think rationally when Japan’s security and diplomatic interests differ from the U.S.’ and take an independent line.
About 60 officials will man a National Security Bureau to be set up within the Cabinet Secretariat. Among them will be about a dozen uniformed officers of the Self-Defense Forces. The NSC must take utmost care to prevent thinking that favors military action from dominating discussions and decisions in the NSC.
The big problem with the NSC bill is that it lacks a mechanism to keep proper official record of discussions by the prime minister and the three Cabinet members. A supplementary resolution attached to the bill, which calls for keeping minutes of the proceedings, has no binding power. This must be changed. Without such records, it will become impossible for the Diet, the public, subsequent governments and future generations to scrutinize the discussions and decisions.
The Diet should also demand that the NSC publish a regular record of the kinds of materials and information that prompted its discussions and decisions, omitting only classified data.
The Japanese NSC is an important part of Abe’s plan to push “proactive pacifism,” which could eventually lead to the deployment of SDF units overseas on armed military missions through the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, thus destroying the Constitution’s war-renouncing principle and Japan’s traditional “defense-only defense” posture. The Diet and the public must remain vigilant and vocal in their opposition to such moves.